Written by: Blake Hymel
One of the predominant opinions around quarterbacks going into the NFL Draft this year is that Lamar Jackson is far-and-away, the most athletic quarterback coming out of college. This is obvious when watching his film, but what does the data say? I’ve broken down three stats that will give us a better look at the athletic ability of the top 10 quarterbacks. Yards per Attempt, Lost Yards per Sack, and Touchdowns per Rushing Attempt. Is Lamar Jackson really that much better? Where does the dynamic Baker Mayfield fit in? Are there any surprises from quarterbacks that don’t get the credit they deserve? Let’s find out.
Rush Yards per Attempt
Rush Yards per attempt is likely the most common stat to look at when determining a player’s ability to run the ball. This stat will give us an indication of the following attributes:
Speed, Agility, Balance
Recognize and hit running lanes
Elusiveness in the open field
Lamar starts off strong. He averages more than double the yards per attempt as the next quarterback(Baker Mayfield) with almost 7 yards per carry. Even as a running back, that would be one of the best averages in college football. As a quarterback, it’s elite. Lamar is the only quarterback that averages more than the NFL quarterback’s 4.5 YPA (minimum 10 attempts). Baker Mayfield owns the 2nd best average, with a respectable 3.21, just over 1 yards less than the NFL average. Josh Allen averages 2.22 YPA, which isn’t great but is similar to what Joe Flacco and Eli Manning averaged in 2017. All three of these quarterbacks have the ability to find success with their feet in the NFL.
The next four players are Kyle Lauletta, Sam Darnold, Mason Rudolph, and Chase Litton. These players may need to be successful with their arms at the next level to become long-term starters. Kyle Lauletta and Sam Darnold are holding averages between 1 and 2 yards per carry. Some notable NFL quarterbacks within this range are Tom Brady, Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, and Jared Goff. Mason Rudolph and Chase Litton come in under a yard per attempt, notable starters with similar stats: Drew Brees and Jimmy Garoppolo.
The last three players are all players that, on average, lose yards per rush attempt. Josh Rosen, who most believe to be the most NFL ready quarterback in this year’s draft, loses almost 2 yards per rush attempt. Followed closely by Luke Falk at -2.19 and Tanner Lee at -3.21. There are no starting quarterbacks in the NFL that averaged less than -1 YPA. The closest was Phillip Rivers were -0.1 YPA. Each of these three quarterbacks will likely need to improve their running ability to be successful at the next level.
Yards Lost per Sack
Yards Lost per Sack was a stat I wanted to look to more closely after watching film on Baker Mayfield. It felt like every time Baker would get sacked, it was deep behind his line, sometimes 10–15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. He would drop back, and when the rush came, instead of moving left or right to avoid it, he’d move backwards. Most times he was able to avoid the rush due to his elusive ability, but when he didn’t, he took huge losses. This stat will give us an indication of the following abilities:
Footwork in the pocket
Quick decision making
Mason Rudolph leads the group here, only losing 5.3 yards per sack, followed closely by Lamar Jackson with 5.52. The only other player that averages better than the NFL average (-6.43) is Chase Litton at -6.27. Baker Mayfield doesn’t lose as much as I thought when I began collecting this data. His elusive ability seems to outweigh the mistakes he makes in the backfield. He loses almost 7 yards per sack, which is a half of yard higher than the NFL average but is good for 5th out of the top 10 quarterbacks.
The biggest surprise is the big names at the bottom of the graph. Josh Allen and Sam Darnold are two quarterbacks that most believe will be picked in the 1st round of the draft. They’re both on the bottom half of this stat. Even worse, projected #1 overall pick Josh Rosen loses a half yard more than any other player, and is last at -7.85 yards lost per sack. The only NFL player to average worse than this in 2017 was Kirk Cousins at -8.34.
Some of this can be attributed to the style of offenses these players play in. If a player routinely does 5–7 yard drops, they’re more likely to lose a large chunk of yards than a player that does 3-step drops or predominately plays in the shotgun. With that said, the fact that Josh Rosen does so poorly in both YPA and YPS may indicate he won’t be able to avoid the quick defenders he’ll see in the NFL.
Attempts per Touchdown
Attempt per Touchdown is probably an obscure stat, but it shows us how each quarterback can be used in the Red Zone. Quarterbacks that can use their legs to find opportunities close to the end zone will give teams a much needed advantage at a time where it matters. This stat will show us the following attributes:
Elusiveness in open field
Quick reaction speed
(Not Shown: Luke Falk — Washington State with no rushing TDs)
The most obvious thing we can take away from this graph is that Mason Rudolph is a legit threat to run the ball in the Red Zone. He averages only 0.57 yards per rush attempt but scores a touchdown on an incredible 16.4% of his rushing attempts. Mason has 10 touchdowns on the season, only behind Lamar Jackson with 18. Lamar Jackson is the next best, scoring on 7.76% of his rushing attempts. As expected, with his 6.90 YPC, Lamar is a dynamic runner anywhere on the field and can score with his legs at any moment.
What’s also surprising is how much higher the averages or these quarterbacks are than the NFL averages. This is likely due to a combination of two factors. The offenses run in college football are much more focused on high-tempo, dynamic running quarterbacks. Where as the NFL looks for pocket passers that only run as needed to avoid the rush. The other factor is likely the quality of defenses these quarterbacks have played against. Most of the defenders these quarterbacks are running against won’t make it to the NFL.
With that said, 8 out of the 10 quarterbacks I examined exceeded the average NFL quarterback in this section. The NFL average is only 4.19%. The three quarterbacks that fall under are Josh Rosen at 4%, Chase Litton at 2.86% and Luke Falk, with no rushing TDs in 2017. This doesn’t necessarily mean these players won’t do well in the NFL, as several successful quarterbacks recorded 0 rushing touchdowns last year, including Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan. This does mean that Josh Rosen, Chase Litton, and Luke Falk will need to have superb passing skills to make up for their lack of a dynamic run game.
Lamar Jackson is who we thought he was. He’s in the top 2 in each stat I examined, and is far ahead of the average of his future NFL counterparts. He is by far-and-away the best runner in this group of quarterbacks.
Baker Mayfield did not perform as well as I thought he would. He’s a very elusive player, but taking deep sacks has hurt his average, and he doesn’t find the end zone with his feet as much as I thought before analyzing the data.
One of the bigger surprises here is Mason Rudolph, his YPC average is very low, but when he does run, he finds the end zone at an incredibly high rate. He also averages the best sack yards per sack, which indicate he’s low risk in the pocket.
Perhaps a bigger surprise is how bad Josh Rosen is when running the ball. He appears in the bottom three of each stat. He loses a huge amount of yards per sack, averages negative yards per rush attempt, and ranks under the NFL average in touchdowns per attempt. Josh has the arm talent to be successful in the NFL and will likely still be drafted #1 overall, but I have my money on Mason Rudolph being a bigger success at the next level.
Below, I’ve ranked these top 10 quarterbacks in how successful I think they’ll be on their feet in the NFL.